Last week we zoomed in and had a closer look at one of the three main leadership styles that football coaches use when leading their players, the commander. When you are coaching and executing your coaching (inter)actions, it’s how you do that, the way you coach that differentiates you from another coach. In general, there are three leadership styles coaches use when leading; the commander who tells players what to do, the teacher who guides the players and the manager who takes a step back and let the players guide the process. In this blog post we will zoom in on one of the two remaining leadership styles and take a look at the teacher.
Now, as you probably know, football is a players sport where it’s the players who make decisions on the pitch and execute these decisions within the context of the football game. That means that when a player is in a game situation, for example attacking, it’s up to the player to execute good decisions with or without the ball based on the communication of team-mates and the opponents. Regardless of which team function (attacking, transitioning or defending), where on the pitch or when in the game, it’s up to the player to make the decisions and not the coach. Due to the short time that is available for the player on the pitch to make a decision in the game it’s impossible for the coach to shout a decision from the bench, even though you might still do it sometimes. At best your shouted decision of ”shoot” or ”pass to the left” arrives just in time to confuse the player and disturb the decision making process. In professional football players usually can’t hear the coach because of the fans, but in youth football and at a lower level your shouting might lead to the player choosing to execute your decision instead their own.
What is the problem with this picture of a coach shouting decisions to a player as in the example above? Who did we say is making the decisions in the game of football, the player or the coach? If you are coaching young kids or at a lower level you might be able to shout some of your decisions to the players which they have the time to execute. Maybe that leads to some good results in that particular game and you are thinking ’why shouldn’t I keep doing this?’. Sure, in the short time, this leadership style of being the commander and telling your players what to do might be working and in some situations it might be needed. However, when developing players or a playing style over time it will be counter productive since the players are not making the decisions themselves and therefore can’t learn from their own mistakes. If the players make mistakes in the game when you as the coach have told them which decision to make, they are actually executing your mistakes.
Based on the characteristics of the game, the job of the coach is to improve the decision making of the players and not make the decisions for them. The leadership style that is best for improving players decision making is the teacher. A teacher is someone who guides the students (players) in the subject (football) that is being taught. Using different methods a coach that leads like a teacher is guiding the players in training sessions to help them improve their decision making. That means that instead of telling players what to do, the coach guides the players by asking different questions that are more or less open and/or leading to help the players improve their decision making. These question does not need to be verbal questions, they could also be questions that are asked by the coach through manipulation of game situations in the training session.
Given the fact that football is a players sport, you as the coach need to guide your players as a teacher in order to improve the quality of their decision making. However, sometimes you find yourself in a situation with external factors that might influence you to choose a different leadership style, and rightly so at times. That said, if you are coaching football your starting point when leading your players is always the leadership style of the teacher.